Fairness and Democracy

Once upon a time in the United States of America, news reporters worried about lying in print or on the media. The reason they worried about lying was because they might get caught and exposed on their own territory. How they would be exposed was through a convention the country had devised called "the Fairness Doctrine." The Museum of Broadcast Communications describes the Fairness Doctrine as "an attempt to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair. The FCC took the view, in 1949, that station licensees were "public trustees," and as such had an obligation to afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance. The Commission later held that stations were also obligated to actively seek out issues of importance to their community and air programming that addressed those issues."

Reagan took offense to everything that resembled competent government or democratic regulation and the Fairness Doctrine was one of the first pieces of government that the senile bastard and his band of gangsters started disassembling when they slithered into office in 1980. That and deregulating the FCC's ownership rules are the basis for the coating that provided Reagan's "Teflon Presidency." Reagan bribed the media with overwhelming control of the nation's information sources and they rewarded him with near-universal approval for every idiotic thing he did. Reagan is responsible for the harebrained drivel spewing from Faux News and wingnut radio. The new generation of media "personalities" consider themselves neocons, but they are nothing more than ignorant liars with a corporate agenda. There is nothing "new" about being conservative and corporate spokespersons have been around since the beginning of that incompetent institution.

Democracy can not exist without information. Even more important, the information has to resemble the truth. The only way to obtain the truth is to the only way to do that is to make all of the information available to as many people as possible. If there is a single public information source that is allowed to lie about every important issue without responsibility or ethics (yeah, I'm talking about you Faux News), the system has a cancer that will destroy the nation.

The older I get, the less I care about economic systems. I do not believe that the USSR died because it was a communist country. I do not believe the USA was so successful for our first 200 years because were were a capitalist country. I believe the strength of a nation is directly tied to its dedication to democracy, as Webster's describes it " a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections." I'm pretty happy with Webster's secondary definitions, too: "the common people especially when constituting the source of political authority" and "the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges." Anything that weakens democratic rule, the strength and the ability of the "common people" to act competently as the "source of political authority" is the enemy of democracy and my enemy.

The FCC Administrator, Mark Fowler, Reagan's usual sort of appointee, ruled that the Fairness Doctrine created a "chilling effect" on reporters' willingness and ability to report on controversial issues. Rephrased in honest English, that meant they were unwilling to invent "facts" and lie about controversial issues because they would be called on their lies and look as stupid as they often were; and are. In a rare act of courage and corporate independence, Congress passed a bill enforcing the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, but Reagan managed to remember to veto it before his nappy time. It came up again during Bush I and Pappy vetoed it, too.

Since then, the quality of discourse has continued to fall in the United States and the media has allowed itself to become polarized; with the overwhelming majority of news sources falling on the corporate right opposed by a few scattered and underpowered sources in the democratic center and a microscopic squeak from the the radical opposition from the left. Without a Fairness Doctrine, Faux News is allowed to say any crazy thing that comes into their tiny little heads and the closest thing to a correction we can expect comes from Comedy Central, since the MSM is solidly corporate. While I'm all for the idea that we should all switch to Jon Stewart and Steve Cobert for our daily news fix, I'd rather that the whole media provided useful information.

Congress needs to bring back the Fairness Doctrine and make it current with today's media. Any media that receives any government funding, including any publicly financed advertising or support resources, should have to live up to the standard provided by the original Fairness Doctrine: "allowing editorializing only if other points of view were aired, balancing that of the [network, newspaper, magazine, or website]." In fact, I'd go even further and force media to present alternative views of every aspect of the news. If a thing is worth knowing about, it's worth knowing everything about that thing.

In that spirit, comments on this blog are and have always been unmonitored (except for R-rated language and spam) and you can post whatever crazy opinion you have without even having the courage to identify yourself.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11/04/2009

    In "Democracy and Capitalism Are NOT One and the Same," Glynn Wilson said almost exactly the same thing. Check out: http://www.truthout.org/1104099.